Wrestler Igali Enters Political Arena in British Columbia
Former Olympic wrestler Daniel Igali announces candidacy for B.C. Liberals
SURREY, B.C. (CP) - Olympic gold medallist Daniel Igali is stepping off the wrestling mat and into the political arena, announcing Thursday he will run for the Liberals in the May 17 B.C. provincial election.
Igali, a native of Nigeria who came to Canada in 1994, was introduced as a candidate in the riding of Surrey-Newton by Premier Gordon Campbell. "I think it's going to be a different kind of wrestling match," chuckled Igali, who looked fit and trim.
"It's not a sporting arena that I'm most comfortable in. This is a different phase of my life. I'll just have to adjust to it."
Igali, who recently turned 31, captured the hearts of Canadians at the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics.
Moments after defeating Russian Arsen Gitinov to win gold in the 69-kilogram class, he spread a Maple Leaf on the mat, jogged around it, then knelt and kissed the flag.
Injuries and being forced to fight in a higher weight class resulted in Igali failing to repeat as a medallist at last summer's Olympics in Athens. He was eliminated in the quarter-finals of the 74-kilogram class.
Igali was born in rural Nigeria, in the village of Eniwari, Bayelsa state. He grew up in a poor family of 21 children in a country where wrestling is as much a passion as hockey is in Canada. As a child, there often wasn't enough food for everyone in the family, meaning Igali learned young to fight for what was his.
This experience will help him in politics, he said.
"You don't go to school to be a politician," Igali told reporters.
"What is important is your core values. What is important is the moral compass that guides you, to know what is right and wrong. I know what is right and wrong. I have from a very young age been taking care of people. I know about social justice, I know about the human condition and that's why I'm running."
Igali was captain of the Nigerian wrestling team that competed at the 1994 Victoria Commonwealth Games. He decided to stay in Canada instead of returning to Nigeria and continued training despite not having bus fare to travel to the gym some days.
He gained his citizenship in 1998 and became the first Canadian to win a world amateur wrestling title.
Igali dedicated the title to Maureen Matheny, the surrogate mother he had found while living in the Vancouver suburb of Surrey. She died of cancer a few days after Igali returned home and presented her with the gold medal.
Following his win in Sydney, Igali said he felt Matheny's presence in the arena.
A compact man with a beaming smile and booming laugh, Igali has never forgotten his roots or the long, often impoverished road he travelled.
He has contributed to building a new school and community centre in his hometown of Eniwar. He also spends time speaking to school children.
He twice was named Canada's outstanding male amateur athlete of the year and has a non-profit foundation for underprivileged children.
During his brief speech Thursday, Igali talked about what Canada has done for him.
"Through the support of Canadians I have achieved unprecedented success in athletics," he said.
"Because of what Canada has done for me, because of what British Columbia and my fellow Surrey residents have meant to me, I want to give back."
Later, speaking to reporters, he did express one concern about running for office.
"I'm very active," said Igali, who works out for about four hours every day.
"If I have something I worry about it's not to have a gut. I'll do as much as I can to try and not get a gut."